Could It Happen? The Truth About Disaster Movies

But, according to Gershon, acid levels in the blood -- as noted in the "Andromeda Strain" -- have nothing to do with someone surviving a viral infection. Rather, the genetic makeup of a person has much to do with whether someone will be infected with a virus.

"Even with close exposure of the virus, there will be some people who will never be affected," she said.

'I Am Legend'


Scientist Robert Neville, played by actor Will Smith, may be the last human survivor on Earth after a man-made virus wipes out most of the world's population. After years of searching for survivors, Neville learns he is living among killer mutants that have been infected by the virus. Meanwhile, Neville searches for a way to reverse the effects of the virus and save the human race.

Question you may ask:

Can you reverse the effects of a virus once individuals have already been infected?

What the Experts Say:

Not all viruses can be prevented with a vaccine. But that does not mean that a person cannot adapt to an infection, Gershon said.

In fact, some viral diseases stay in the person who is infected and do not transfer to others. And other viruses, such as the cold, can be treated solely through the body's immune response.

"More frequently, you get over these things on your own and develop immunity and never get it again," she said.

So while there might not be a special pill or injection that can reverse a viral infection, like in the case of "I am Legend," at times the body's defense system can be the best treatment.

'28 Days Later'


Animal activists break into a British research facility and release chimpanzees that are infected with a virus. The virus, which spreads throughout London, is transmitted in a drop of blood and sends those infected into a permanent state of murderous rage.

Question you may ask:

Is there a virus that can cause insanity in someone who is infected?

What the Experts Say:

Rabies is one virus that may have inspired the film's premise of infection-linked insanity. But in true Hollywood fashion, the outcome of the disease is exaggerated.

"A lot of these movies start off with a potential truth but go off on a fantasy," Gershon said.

Rabies is a prototype for a disease that may involve exhuming insane behavior. The early symptoms of disease cause rage and anger but then result in paralysis and death.

What makes part of the movie accurate is that rabies is a uniformly fatal disease spread by animal bites, she said. But, otherwise, the movie doesn't represent what could really happen.

'12 Monkeys'


A deadly supervirus has wiped out all but 1 percent of the world's population, who are forced to live underground. Convict James Cole, played by actor Bruce Willis, is sent back in time to explore the origins of the epidemic so that scientists can prevent the release of the virus.

Question you may ask:

Will staying underground during a viral epidemic protect me?

What the Experts Say:

"That's absurd," Gershon said.

Although finding protection away from an airborne virus by getting away from the open air may seem like a logical escape plan, a virus is able to spread to any part of the earth.

Airborne viruses are the most liable to spread, Gershon said. And the reality of a virus is that there may be no escape if we are surrounded by one.

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